Capacity on the London Birmingham corridor

In the evidence that Philip Hammond gave to the Select Committee enquiry into High Speed 2 he stated that the business case of HS2 depended on the need for additional capacity on the London-Birmingham corridor. He claimed that the only way to achieve that is to build a new railway line (which might as well be a high speed one). Express coach was not mentioned once.

Let’s explore the capacity argument a little. The current HS2 plans are based on a maximum of 4 trains per hour (see section 2.3.4), each of which can be up to 400 meters long with seating for 1,100 people (see section 3.2). The proposed capacity per hour is therefore 4,400. The number of trains will no doubt increase as the line extends further north in the future, but this provides a useful base-line for the additional capacity that is required.

Interestingly a single lane of the existing dual three-lane M40 motorway (or on the M6/M1 motorways) running directly from Birmingham into London could carry 63,000 people using today’s express coach technology which is fifteen times as many people as proposed by High Speed 2 above. The capacity requirement of HS2 could be achieved using a single 87 seater coach per minute.

In practice such a lane would be very under-utilised and it may be appropriate to also make this lane available to taxis, other coach services and any other vehicles with 3 or more occupants. Given that there is likely to still be available capacity then it may be desirable to allow vehicles with only one or two occupants to use the lane on payment of a dynamic fee which would vary with demand. Such an express toll lane system is being developed in Los Angeles as part of their Metro Expresslanes project on El Monte Busway and Harbor Transitway which is used by the Silver Line (a bus rapid-transit line). The fee income can be used to maintain the route and make public transport fares more attractive.

This proposed M40 service would build on the success of the current Oxford-London coach services which operates along part of the corridor. Vehicles could optionally call at and new and existing intermediate coachway stations associated with the key settlements along the route, such as the Thornhil Park and Ride site serving Oxford, and the new High Wycombe coachway interchange which is in the planning stage. The M1 route would be able to call at recently completed Milton Keynes Coachway interchange and at other new coachway stations.

There would be no huge interchange at the end of these corridors as would be the case with HS2 – vehicles would start from a variety of places around and within Birmingham and elsewhere and mesh with local transport including the underground and bus services within London.

Here is Philip Hammond’s response to a question about the need for HS2. In fairness to the Secretary for State, I am including his response in it’s entirety.


Lewknor is a small village in Oxfordshire with a population of about 665; why then does it have an express coach service to London with a service frequency of 15 minutes for much of the day and an hourly service 24/7? The reason is that it  happened to have a pair of bus stops that could be used conveniently from the nearby M40 by the Oxford London Coach services. The coach initially stopped there initially for tax reasons. Stopping there allowed the operator to claim Bus Service Operators Grant which is only available for routes, or parts of routes with stops less than 15 miles apart. However, the coach then actually created significant demand which in turn created a parking problem near the bus stops they used.

Since then a shared-taxi service being established to ferry people to suitable parking places. This can either be seen as a problem, of parking mainly, or as a success in that fewer people driving to London. The images below show the junction layout, the road next and the stops using Google Streetview complete with yellow lines to stop people ‘fly-parking’. You can read more in ‘An investigation into the role express coaches could play in supporting a sustainable economic recovery‘ (Ben Staite, Transport Policy and Delivery, Swindon Borough Council)

Here is the map:

Lewknor map


Lewknor coach stop

Clearly one needs to think carefully about the local transport links. Personally I think it would be good to get the bus stop for the coaches away from the main road and it would also be more comfortable to people on the coach if the route off the motorway and back on again didn’t make two 90 degree bends. Both could be achieved by straighting out the slip roads and installing the coach stops on laybys on the sliproads rather than the main road as shown on this next map.

Lewknor map with adjusted slip road and coach stop